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An Unexpected Connection

As many of you know, the last three weeks have been a mini-hell as my wife, Karen Fortier, has recovered at Norfolk Sentara from heart surgery to replace 2 valves. 22 days later we have made it home where Karen is resting and walking, beginning the slow climb back to her old self, but better! Her care at Sentara was superb from doctors down to the people who clean the floors. The Sentara staff are a unique army of caregiving, concerned, smart and approachable professionals and our care was overwhelming. In classic Karen fashion, she made it a point to learn the names of everyone who helped us. This is a photo of Savannah, who was a great help to Karen in one particularly difficult patch. Savannah and I also discovered another connection.

My wife, Karen, made it a point to “talk up” all the staff who came into her room to help her. She learned all of their names and found out things about them. One funny moment came at about 3 am when one of the nurses was doing “vitals” on Karen. Karen said “you don’t seem yourself” and the nurse started going into a detailed litany of her problems. Only Karen… Well, when Karen was grilling our poor nurse, Savannah, she discovered something that rocked me back.


Savannah was from Asia and so we rattled off all the cool countries I had seen in my trip there as a young man. Turns out, I had visited Savannah’s home when I was 23. She grew up in Cambodia and when she was a young girl, she lived for four years in the Khoa I Dang refugee camp on the Thai border. I have only exhibited two moments of genuine courage in my life and going to Khoa I Dang, not considered safe for young American travelers, was one of them. I was overwhelmed by the suffering and wrote this at the time: “Perhaps Cambodians’ claim to fame will be the magnitude of their suffering but, in fact, it is their lust for life that sets them apart.” Is that Savannah in the left corner of my photo? Probably not, but WOW.

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